Terunobu Fujimori has been called the world’s only “surreal architect.” Obviously this is false, but there is a fantastical quality about his work that isn’t typical among architects, even when they’re trying for the new, strange or sci-fi. Fujimori is interesting because his fantasy has a down-to-earth, muted folktale-like quality without straying into gimmicks or kitsch. He uses wood and other simple, elemental materials that connect the architecture to the ground from which the materials come. He’s not a traditionalist, despite the fact that you can feel much of Japanese architectural history in his work. His references are both high and low, from traditional peasant houses and folk tales to the royal fortresses like those in Ran or Rashomon, but either way there tends to be a sense of the ancient. For more about him see also pushpull. Fujimori curated a celebrated exhibition in the Japanese pavilion at the 2006 Venice Biennale of Architecture that’s worth looking at here. Photos are from Flickr and designboom. Immediately above and below, Fujimori’s Coal House, sheathed in satiny black charred wood that is a traditional method of finishing and preserving wood but that also somehow suggests the fires that destroyed so many of Japan’s wooden castles and houses.
Above, Nemunoki Art Museum by Terunobu Fujimori and Yoshio Uchika. Below, his Leek House, with a lattice roof with chives growing from it.
The building below with the dead trunks growing through and the look of a medieval Japanese wooden fortress is the Akino Fuku Museum.
More information on Fujimori below.
Terunobu Fujimori, a leading historian of modern Japanese architecture, began to design his own architecture in 1990. Since then, he has created a number of original buildings unbound by previous forms or styles, offering continual surprises to the world of architecture. The exhibition, “Architecture of Terunobu Fujimori and ROJO: Unknown Japanese Architecture and Cities,” was presented last year as part of the “Venice Biennale: 10th International Architecture Exhibition 2006.” It was acclaimed for offering a glimpse of an unknown aspect of contemporary Japanese architecture, which enjoys a high international reputation.
Research in the field of architectural history is Fujimori’s principal occupation, but he currently creates architectural works, too.The main theme of his research into the history of architecture and city planning has been modern architecture, and particularly western-style buildings in Japan from the Meiji period onwards. His “Meiji no Tokyo Keikaku (Meiji Plans for Tokyo)” (pub. 1982, Iwanami Shoten), won him the Mainichi Publication Culture Award.As part of his research, in 1974 he joined with friends and colleagues to form the Tokyo Architectural Detective Agency. Carrying maps and cameras, the detectives walked around Tokyo, from the commercial arcades of the lower-class ‘shitamachi’ areas to the residential sections of the high-class ‘yamanote’ areas, seeking out western-style buildings that had long been forgotten and covered up. This endeavor resulted in the publication of “Kenchiku Tantei no Boken: Tokyo Hen (Adventures of an Architectural Detective: Tokyo)” (1986, Chikuma Shobo), which won Fujimori the Suntory Prize for Social Science and Humanities. Since then, he has continued his architectural detective work, publishing the results in all sorts of different media formats in ways that make them accessible to the general public.
During his urban walks to discover forgotten architecture, Fujimori came to know Genpei Akasegawa, Shinbo Minami, Joji Hayashi, Tetsuo Matsuda and others who were ‘collecting’ intriguing properties around the town from a similar perspective. This encounter led to the establishment of the ROJO Society in 1986.After devoting himself to his architectural history research and writings for so long, Fujimori made a debut as an architect in 1991 at the age of 44 when he created the Jinchokan Moriya Historical Museum under commission from his hometown, Chino City in Nagano.Fujimori’s architecture took a completely untried approach, enveloping a reinforced concrete structure with local stones, earth, and hand-cut planking. The result caught the public’s imagination, but the architectural community was more dubious until Kengo Kuma praised it for generating fond feelings of familiarity in people who had never seen it before. As more and more people began to appreciate his work, Fujimori went on to create the Akino Fuku Art Museum (1997), Student Dormitory for Kumamoto Agricultural College (2000), Grass House (Dandelion House) (1995) with dandelions planted on the walls and roof, Nira House (Leek House) (1997), which was planted with leeks, Ichiya-tei tea house for Morihiro Hosokawa (2003), and the Takasugi-an tea house (2004), set 6 meters above the ground like a treehouse. Nira House (Leek House) won him the Japan Art Grand Prix, and he was awarded the Architectural Institute of Japan Prize for Design for the Student Dormitory for Kumamoto Agricultural College.
Born in Nagano in 1946, Terunobu Fujimori studied at Tohoku University before graduate school at the University of Tokyo. He is currently a professor at the University of Tokyo’s Institute of Industrial Science.